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Doc, "Friendly Fire" and Injured Soldiers



When the mouth of hell opened and the savage teeth of the insatiable gods of war started tearing apart flesh that once suckled at a mother’s breast, that once rode piggy back on dad’s shoulders, that once threw a baseball, or knew its first kiss, or never had time to,  it was “DOC” who  was screamed for.

And Doc, how  many Docs in how many wars, came to do whatever could be done. Some came carrying weapons, others ministered without personal weapons, but they came in the thick of the fog of war and did their utmost to save lives.  They did what they could, loaded evac helicopters or trucks  or  litters or anything else that would move the injured from the field.

They rejoiced  when their charges made it through; they live, each and everyday and each and every night, with those who didn’t, always wondering “...if I coulda...would it have made a difference?”

I have not talked with one who doesn’t still care, who doesn’t  still most nights, wander those battle fields, always looking to do more, paining that they couldn’t have done more then.

But they haven’t forgotten those who made it back. They are aware of those who made it back with physical, with psychological injuries and they are still answering the call...”DOC,  we still need you there fighting for us.”

Joe Ohnstad, Career Military -  Medic, (67/68as Combat Medi with the 13th Combat Aviation,Can Tho, VN/ 71/72  as Medical Adviser, Military Advisory Team 29, Phn Cat, VN) is a Retired Master Sergeant, still heeding the call and asking for  YOUR help. This time it is for care of those who gave so much. This time it is for taking care of them now.

This time it is for fulfilling what I call Our Covenant:  Be There for US and WE will be There for YOU.

In this article, originally published in The High Plains Reader,  May 8, 03 Joe asks us for our support to help those who put it on the line for us, who are TODAY, putting it on the line for us. They are US whatever your feelings on the current engagement.

This Doc feels strongly about what he feels is right for our soldiers who gave so much. He has a few words for you on meals for injured soldiers, but I think you  should be aware that this is a man with a history of service that includes  Four Bronze Star Medals, including V Device for Heroism; Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal; Four Army Commendations Medals; Six Good Conduct Medals; Vietnamese Civic Action Medal; Vietnamese Technical Medal; Expert Field Medical Badge; Aircraft Crewman Badge. He is a man who did and does care.

From Joe on the subject of Meals for Injured Soldiers:
      Grass roots efforts in action. Common people with a passion for justice are still the most powerful force in our democracy. For the past several decades soldiers inflicted with combat or combat related wounds serious enough to be hospitalized were made to pay for their meals.  No one made hay of this until the American public found out about this travesty, and then the outrage. I am happy to say that, due to the grassroots efforts of people just like you who shouted, "No more!," this is about to end.

Full story at the following link from the AP Press and Hampton Roads:

Injured and Meals.

Originally published in The High Plains Reader,  May, 2003:

Disabled military veterans take “friendly fire” from Bush Administration

By Joseph Ohnstad
Master Sergeant, U.S. Army (retired)
Kindred, ND

      President Bush this past week declared the end of combat in Iraq. It seems it is all over but the shooting. Bush, Rumsfeld, and Cheney wasted no time and took to the streets thumping their chest, and grinning the grin at the accomplishment of [their] Armed Forces
in Iraq.

     With such pride in the young men and women of the Armed Forces it would be a shock, would it not, to know that not so many months before disabled military veterans were in the fight of their life to correct an inequity existing for more than a century; and the opposition was the Bush administration.  These veterans had an extensive and impressive coalition on their side. NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw ran four separate segments entitled the “Fleecing of America” that expressed outrage that our government would continue to confiscate earned compensation from our disabled veterans. Mr. Brokaw presented several case histories of veterans who had dedicated most of their adult life in defense of our country, but were now living in poverty because of service-connected disabilities, and the lack of will of our government to do the right thing.
      All veterans service organizations and active duty support groups came out in the strongest words in favor of enacting legislation to correct this miscarriage of justice. Their leadership wrote passionate and compelling letters, pleading with President George W. Bush and Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, the main opponents of corrective legislation, to reconsider their adversarial position. All overtures fell on deaf ears.

     Last year, Republican Congressman Bilirakis (Fla) introduced a bill (H.R.303) that would eliminate the offset imposed on disabled military retirees. This legislation garnered 403 cosponsors.  

    Senator Reid (Nev.), in the same Congress, sponsored companion legislation (S170). This proposed legislation brought 82 Senators on board as cosponsors.

   With such tremendous support in Congress, disabled veterans were in "shock and awe."

Nothing could prevent justice from becoming a reality now. Nothing! "Why, there are even enough votes to override a presidential veto," they reasoned.

    The Bush administration and the Department of Defense under Donald Rumsfeld, saw this, too. They immediately set about developing and implementing a war plan to combat the initiative of disabled veterans.
    Then came the friendly fire. Blue on blue. Retired, disabled veterans were attacked by the Bush administration and President George W. Bush, himself.

    Secretary Rumsfeld sent his top manpower officials, David Chu, Under Secretary of Defense and Charles Abell, Assistant Secretary for Force Management, out in force to news outlets in an attempt to gain the public's sympathy to its cause. They accused disabled veterans of attempting to "double dip" and worse yet, of being "greedy." In other media, they suggested that military retirees have too much money, anyway. Taking their tactics a step further, they blatantly and villainously fabricated through-the- sky cost estimates to frighten our legislators.

    The Armed Forces News wrote, " DOD Attacks Concurrent Receipt Concept. Using its press weapons, the Department of Defense is going to great lengths to argue against the overwhelming intent of the lawmakers to authorize some form of concurrent receipt for military retirees who have been awarded disability compensation by the Department of Veterans Affairs."

   The leadership of our military service organizations also confronted all of these allegations.

   The Fleet Reserve Associations National Executive Secretary, Joseph Barnes, expressed outrage. "Their approach to have Congress erase concurrent receipt language from the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2003 borders on the irresponsible. Their arguments are not credible. As to their argument that disabled veterans are "greedy," he says, "Pure hog wash."

    Congressman Bilirakis reminded Secretary Abell that in his contacts with disabled veterans over the past 17 years, he has heard from thousands of disabled military retirees who are struggling just to get by each month. He further goes on to say, " Some of these retirees have been forced to undertake drastic measures, such as selling their homes, to meet their monthly obligations. For many of them, their retirement pay amounts to less than $1,000 per month…. I seriously doubt that any of these retirees would consider themselves, "doing well financially." (What Congressman Bilirakis says applies to the vast majority of disabled military retirees, since most are enlisted personnel with low retirement pay.)

   Congressman Bilirakis closed his letter to Secretary Abell by saying," I strongly urge you and the Department of Defense to end your misleading rhetoric against concurrent receipt and do what is right and support the elimination of the current offset." Remember now, Congressman Bilirakis is a Republican.

   After this bombardment by Rumsfeld and his staff at the Department of Defense, President George W. Bush was still not confident that that his war with disabled veterans was won. He took the initiative and issued a threat to our legislators. He indicated through administration action that he would veto the FY 2003 National Defense Authorization Act if it contained compensation for disabled veterans. This is serious since this bill would provide much money for our national defense.

   It is hard to believe that this assault came from a President of the United States, who, in just a few short months, would so strongly declare his resolve in the war with Iraq, that he would commit our young men and women in the armed forces to the very end, no matter the cost in human lives. All military service organizations were outraged. I quote only one: the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "Expressing outrage and disbelief, the Commander-in-Chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S., today termed the administration’s threat to veto the FY 2003 National Defense Act (S2514) an injustice….This threat is a callous and irrational assault against rectifying a long-standing injustice endured by those in uniform who have devoted their lives to protecting the nation."

    Then, Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid (Nev) said, "It's a cruel legislative trick."

    Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla), said in a floor speech, " I want to put it very clearly. The veterans of this country…are going to be denied concurrent receipt legislation because of the instruction from the White House staff and [from] President Bush."

   Lest it be inferred that this is a Republican versus Democrat issue, it is not. Both political parties will tell you they overwhelmingly support taking action to correct this injustice. It is, however, a matter of character and integrity. After President Bush's threat of a veto of the FY 2003 National Defense Authorization Act, all members of both parties, to a man, ran for their white flags of surrender. The Republicans say they did it because they didn't want to embarrass George W. Bush and force him to use his veto.

    The Democrats retreated because I suspect they did not have the courage to stand up to George W. Bush.

    There was a great rallying cry during the Iraq war to "Support Our Troops," and you came through. The troops showed their appreciation by their courage, fidelity, skill and dedication to their mission. Disabled veterans ask the same of you, now. Please do what you can to correct the wrongful of denial of concurrent receipt.

    Send a postcard to: George W. Bush, President of the United States, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington DC 20500.

   Ask him to be fair to our disabled veterans and pass concurrent receipt legislation. Tell him it is wrong for the U.S. government to continue confiscating retirement pensions from disabled veterans. Remind him that this act of goodwill and justice will stimulate the economy right along with his tax cut.

   Now it is up to you. Please don't let disabled veterans down. The power to effect change and bring about justice is in your hands. Please do whatever you can. Send the postcards.

You can make a difference.

    Write to our legislators, as well. Tell them you support our veterans and you expect nothing less of them. Let them know that surrender to friendly fire is not acceptable.

Joseph Ohnstad can be emailed at   Joe Ohnstad.

   If you are interested in what the front lines, what the Vietnam Experience was for a combat medic, may I suggest you visit:  When Can We Come Home? Understanding the Viet Nam Veteran by Harry Kieninger, Medic.


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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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